"Sustainability... Wasn't Sustainable": City Provisions Deli Has Closed

By
Cleetus Friedman.

Sad news from one of the most progressive businesses in town: Chef Cleetus Friedman has closed his restaurant and shop City Provisions Deli in the Ravenswood neighborhood. Friedman, who traveled a unique path from improv (as student of Del Close) and hiphop artist to catering, opened his store in 2010, offering an assortment of local artisanal products as well as in-house cured meats and brunch and lunch offerings. He's also been a highly visible figure for the sustainability and locavore movements in Chicago, participating in countless events with other chefs and everything from beekeepers to breweries. But a farewell letter to the customers and community expresses frustration and sorrow that running a business on a sustainable basis is hard— and that the north side location may not have been a good choice in the long run.

I was committed to doing what I believed to be the right thing. Real food takes not just passion, but labor. And these numbers add up. The fact is, I put the same level of ingredients and labor into a sandwich, chips and pickle that my colleagues are putting into a $25 entree. Perhaps we, as a community, are not prepared to take on the challenge of a $15 - $20 lunch ticket.

One can argue about various reasons why the business didn't make it, but if we had to pick a candidate for why City Provisions failed, it would be the intersection of the neighborhood and pricing. Unlike, say, with Publican Quality Meats and its concentrated downtown audience, it was never possible to develop sufficient traffic for lunch in a residential neighborhood at such a price level— a price level which was necessitated by the fact that Friedman refused to use the foods that can charge a low apparent price, because we pay their real costs in other ways (taxpayer subsidies to Big Ag, offloading of pollution costs onto the general public). Eating a $15 sandwich like he offered is stepping out of the industrial food system and paying real farmers and suppliers a fair price— but unfortunately they are competing against those who operate by an entirely different set of economic rules. As one local blogger, John Lenart, commented at his blog, "It's too bad that our food system has lied to us and told us that food is cheap and easy. It's not. Well, not if you want to eat good food."

Friedman promises in his letter that he isn't leaving the scene, and that he'll continue to work for the food world he wants to see. But the loss of his retail space for doing so is a blow to the city— and a vision of feeding it better provisions.

Friedman's letter:

To The Community,

***

"What's a purpose?" Freddie had asked.

"A reason for being," Daniel had answered. "To make things more pleasant for others is a reason for being..."

- The Fall of Freddie the Leaf, Leo Buscaglia

***

As of Monday January 28th I am closing the City Provisions Delicatessen.

I guess there is something to be said about committing to a mission. And perhaps there is a reason why there is nothing like City Provisions.

While I gave everything I had every day of the week to all of my staff, vendors, and guests, in the end I found that sustainability - an undying commitment to what that means - wasn't sustainable. While it looked great from the outside, on the inside we faced many challenges. The praise that hangs on my wall and the Internet speaks to my passion, and that will never change.

I could have bought different milk. Different eggs. I could have used non eco-friendly parchment paper. I could sent everything to landfill. I could have used an inferior product. I could have had a Sysco truck deliver my food and have one person work a deep fryer and microwave. I consciously chose to do things one way. Maybe I was stubborn. I was committed to doing what I believed to be the right thing.

Real food takes not just passion, but labor. And these numbers add up. The fact is, I put the same level of ingredients and labor into a sandwich, chips and pickle that my colleagues are putting into a $25 entree. Perhaps we, as a community, are not prepared to take on the challenge of a $15 - $20 lunch ticket, but I know I tried to do it the best way, true to my ideals and focused on creating the best product possible.

I made many connections and fostered many relationships that led to great things, which is has always been part of my purpose. I love and have been embraced by the Ravenswood community-but this location simply does not produce the type of foot traffic a business like City Provisions needs to be financially viable.

I cannot fail to mention how amazing, supportive, and committed my entire staff has been. I also want to thank the our guests, from the regulars to those who came in yesterday for the first time.

I have no doubt that my next step will parlay all I have learned and turn into a great move. I fully intend to continue the brand I have built for myself by supporting the local food movement, coming up with unique collaborations, and sharing my Farm Dinner series.

As the future unfolds, I plan to keep pushing the boundaries of the local food movement and keeping you excited about the world I am living in...so stay tuned.

I thank you all for your undying support and look forward to informing you of the next steps.

Thank you for your support!

Chef Cleetus Friedman